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'No one should go this long without a hug': Changes coming to long-term care visitation in Florida

The conversation came after a Jacksonville woman led the charge for changes under pandemic protocol after not being able to see her husband for more than 100 days.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sat down with members of the long-term health care community in Jacksonville to talk about changes to the state's rules for visitors under COVID-19 prevention protocols.

DeSantis was joined by Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom, at noon at ElderSource on Old St. Augustine Rd.

“I had a pit in my stomach,” DeSantis said, referencing the decision earlier in the year to shut down visitation at assisted-living facilities. 

"I think it's difficult to think that some of our actions may have prevented ... " the governor began, before becoming emotional and handing the conversation over to Mary Daniel, a local woman who has been a leader in the push to change the state's policy on visitation at long-term facilities.

Daniel led the charge for changes under pandemic protocol after not being able to see her husband for more than 100 days. 

“We understand we’re in a tough situation, we understand there are obstacles, but we’re gonna do it,” DeSantis said on allowing visitation. “The State of Florida can say we did everything we could to protect the most vulnerable."

Visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities will now be allowed under the following parameters:

  • All visitors have to wear protective personal equipment and pass through screening. 
  • All visitation through appointment, residents can designate up to five visitors with two allowed in at a time. 
  • No minors will be allowed.
  • No facility can allow visitors unless 14 days pass without onset of a new case in resident or staff member. Essential caregivers are excluded from that rule.

General visitation must practice social distancing, but essential caregivers can touch and hug their loved ones, Daniel said.

“The human touch is absolutely critical,” Mayhew elaborated. “No one should be going this long without a hug.”

Daniel, whose husband has Alzheimer's, created a Facebook group for fellow caregivers unable to visit loved ones in nursing homes or residential health care facilities, Caregivers for Compromise.

The group's 10,000-member reach, along with Daniel's endless petitions to the governor for change, led to her appointment to a task force dedicated to finding a way to allow visitation in nursing homes statewide. 

Daniel, who was also the subject of a First Coast News story that went viral, told us last week she expected DeSantis to sign off on the recommendations within days.